Left intellectuals in India have always prided themselves for never shying away from owning up to their caste while talking about casteism. But author-activist Arundhati Roy, the last person we expected, has let us down. Roy, who wrote an introduction to B.R. Ambedkar’s seminal text ‘Annihilation of Caste’, has now joined the ranks of Shashi Tharoor, Amitabh Bachchan, and even Kangana Ranaut, in proclaiming to be a casteless Indian.
At a virtual event held earlier this week to discuss the release of her new book Azadi: Freedom. Fascism, Fiction, Roy spoke about India’s caste system and racial hierarchy in the United States. But soon into the conversation, Nick Etze, the Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of New Mexico, asked if Roy was herself Brahmin. She replied saying she was, in fact, not.
“I am not (a Brahmin)… My mother is a Christian and my father belonged to an organisation called Brahmo Samaj, which is not Brahmin, but he also became Christian… So I am not a Brahmin,” she said in the interview.
If Roy claims to be casteless, why does she use an upper-caste surname?
It is disappointing to see Roy, an upper-caste, upper-class Bengali, who has most probably benefited from a privileged background that her surname denotes, now suddenly feeling ashamed to own it up.
Caste is the true test of progressive Leftists
It doesn’t matter if Roy is a Brahmin, but what was problematic was the fact that she lied about it, and Twitter users rightfully pointed it out.
Arundhati Roy is bluntly lying that she is not a brahmin.
Anyone can notice a hesitation in her voice and expression.
Hypocrisy at its peak.
— Dalit Chef (@DalitChef) September 3, 2020
Did you see Arundathi Roy just lie about not being a Brahmin https://t.co/zxfompjsS3
— Sharmin Hossain (@sharminultra) September 4, 2020
Roy must know, in India, no one really becomes casteless just because he/she is a Christian. Dalit Christians continue to face discrimination to this day. Isn’t Roy, the radical Left activist, aware of this?
The fact that she can claim to be casteless only proves her privilege — lower castes in India can’t afford to conveniently forget their caste.
She also claimed that Brahmanism is, in fact, not about Brahmins — “The anti-caste movement has traditionally used this word ‘Brahminism’…It isn’t about Brahmins but the idea of this kind of caste hierarchy. So, it isn’t just Brahmins that practice Brahminism.” While it is reductive to understand Brahmanical ideology as just about Brahmins, this argument cannot be used superficially. The custodians and propagators of Vedic Hinduism and its in-built hierarchy have indeed been Brahmins.
Caste is the ultimate test of one’s progressive politics, and most of these Left liberals are upper caste individuals, who use their caste power to proclaim themselves as casteless.
India’s leftists are mostly upper caste, they understand very little about the caste system and don’t want to address it. Historically, they have not addressed caste and have only been comfortable with addressing class. That is one of the failings of the Left movement in India.
Not the first time
However, this isn’t the first time when the Booker Prize winner has been a let down.
In 2014, her introduction to ‘The Annihilation of Caste’ — titled ‘The Doctor and the Saint’ — was criticised by many for how it focused on Mahatma Gandhi, and his comparison with Ambedkar. There was no need to write such a lengthy reappraisal of Gandhi in a foreword to Ambedkar’s book.
Roy also failed to explain to the readers the subtle relation between caste, class, and religion in India.
Several anti-caste activists and Dalit writers questioned Roy’s “poor grasp” of the book and “shallower and sensational out-of-context introduction to the original text at risk of maligning Ambedkar”.
However, what shocked me the most was the time when Roy asked Indian citizens to lie about their names and addresses during the National Population Register (NPR) exercise last December. Even a police complaint was filed against Roy in this regard. Surely, the NPR has its flaws and is not accepted by a large section of the society. But who asks people to lie to the government about their identities? Roy lying about her Brahmin identity doesn’t seem so shocking after all.
All of us could say we don’t believe in the caste system, all of us can say we don’t practice the caste system. But the reality is that all of us are products of India’s rigged caste hierarchy. And we can’t escape that. That is where Roy has failed.
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